Click Here For Video
Asked to describe himself during a round of interviews at the Hit Factory Criteria studios Miami, Juanes just shrugs, “I’m a normal person.” Now 35 and the father of two, the Latin pop rockero—Colombia’s most beloved paisa and a 12-time Latin Grammy winner—is here to host a preview session of his new album La Vida Es Un Ratico (Life Is A Fleeting Moment). He might sound a bit unfazed by his success, but that doesn’t deter a gaggle of journalists from flooding him with questions well into the night.
In person, Juanes is reserved, even shy, and very down-to-earth—all qualities shared to some degree or another by most mortals who don’t crave the spotlight. But then he intones the word “passionate,” and for a fraction of a second, he exudes a subtle yet intense surge of sex appeal that reveals how his delicate blend of sensitivity, masculinity and consciousness can translate into music that moves the masses. Since the launch of his solo career in 2000, Juanes has used his blend of pan-American rock, sprinkled with subdued hints of folkloric sounds anchored in pop, to bring attention to societal problems and explore the contours of his emotions. La Vida Es Un Ratico is no different, but to understand what motivates Juanes and his message, it helps to go back to his roots.
Born Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez in Medellín, Colombia, Juanes—short for Juan Esteban—learned to play the acoustic guitar at age seven. Along with his father and older brothers, he strummed out traditional Latin boleros and tangos, native styles like vallenato, cumbia, and guasca. But his music took a darker turn, fueled by the loss of people close to him and the violence of his country’s unrelenting civil war. There was the childhood friend who had been gunned down, and a cousin kidnapped by rebels who was later killed even after the ransom was paid. By the time his father had succumbed to cancer, his outlook on life was downright bleak to say the least.
As a teenager, he was influenced by heavy metal music, especially Metallica, and in 1988 he formed a hard-rock band called Ekhymosis. They went on to record five albums—the last one cut in Los Angeles. Soon thereafter, disagreements over the band’s future and Colombia’s decades-old turmoil were reasons enough for Juanes to pursue a solo career Stateside. His big break came when, after months of peddling demo tapes in the City Of Angels, his music caught the attention of Argentine producer Gustavo Santaolalla, who himself had just made the move from Buenos Aires to Echo Park. The rest is Latin pop-rock history.
Juanes’ first two records, Fíjate Bien (2000) and Un Día Normal (2002), brought him seven Latin Grammy Awards. His third album Mi Sangre (2004) won him five Grammys and instant recognition on the global stage. He would go on to sell more than 5 million records worldwide, quickly becoming the Spanish-speaking world’s leading musical voice. Even Time magazine took note, adding Juanes to its list of the 100 most influential people in the world. If nothing else, his meteoric rise from rock-n-roll anonymity to worldwide superstardom beyond Colombia’s borders proves that you can sing in Spanish and still conquer the U.S. market.
"Singing in Spanish for me represents being honest with myself,” Juanes says. “The fact is that I continue to think in Spanish. I love music that’s sung in English—I speak English, not perfectly, but pretty good, but I can’t sit down and sing in English, you know? For me to sing in Spanish is something visceral. It’s something more natural, and I feel like right now is a great time for cultural exchange, so I prefer to go with Spanish and to offer my music in the way that I feel it.”
Indeed, rather t